Redline Racer from Criterion Studios and Ubi Soft is a slick-looking motorcycle racing game that delivers arcade-racing action at breakneck speeds. Unfortunately, good looks and a fast pace don't add up to top-shelf gameplay, and Redline Racer falls a bit flat where it could have easily excelled.
The game features ten tracks and eight bikes, but - as in most arcade racers - you don't have access to all of these when you start out. Instead, you begin with a choice of three tracks and three bikes. Once you manage to win a few races at increasingly tough difficulty settings, you'll gain access to more tracks and more bikes.
The tracks start out with fairly simple designs and progress to much-more-challenging courses with numerous hairpin curves. Settings include desert roads, sandy beaches, and a racetrack encircling a large castle. Gameplay is run-of-the-mill arcade racing against 15 AI opponents, with a timer and checkpoints that enable you to increase your racing time. Annoyingly, there is no option to disable the timer in the arcade mode. Of course, you can get around the time limits by racing in time trial mode, but then you can only race against a single ghost racer. For some reason, this game offers no championship mode that links a bunch of tracks together. Multiplayer options are pretty solid, with support for up to eight players via direct link, modem, LAN, or Internet connections.
Though the bikes at your disposal have four different attributes (top speed, acceleration, handling, and braking), the only ratings that seem to matter are top speed and handling. On the snow-swept roadways of Le Grand Blanc, in fact, a good handling rating seemed absolutely crucial. Still, the different ratings don't have as much of an effect as they should. Acceleration in particular seems rather useless, as you can jump to your top gear in about five seconds even on bikes with poor acceleration ratings (and the computer-controlled bikes consistently out-accelerate you off the line even when you have the best bikes).
Redline Racer's strongest point is its graphics engine, which is for the most part simply phenomenal. The game's viewing distance alone is extremely impressive, as you can see the upcoming twists and turns clear as day - there is none of that lame "gray curtain" fogging to hide the draw-in (which is minimal). The tracks are nicely detailed and most include some sort of animated landmark - waves lapping at the beach, an operating ski lift, a passenger train, and even a helicopter are among the most notable. The bikes and riders are pretty well modeled, but you'll find plenty of sharp edges in both. Also, I noticed that my rear wheel disappeared midway through some of my races - I could still race, I just couldn't see the wheel anymore. Finally, you'll see into and through walls and other boundaries if you get too close to them - not a critical weakness, but something that stands out in an otherwise stellar graphics engine.
You'll run across plenty of crashes as you race around the tracks in Redline Racer. No, the game itself doesn't crash (at least, not that I noticed), but you and your bike will. This game employs collision detection algorithms that can only be described as baffling. If you steer too far to either side of any track (and even sometimes when you stay right in the middle), you seem to have a 50-50 chance of catching some invisible bump and flying headlong through the air while your bike bounces along beneath you. Other racers can sometimes cause you to crash, while at other times you can bump and bounce your way through them as if they didn't exist. Inconsistent seems to be the operative word in this game, which is a shame because it otherwise has the makings of a truly enjoyable arcade racer.
Overall, Redline Racer is the sort of game that should provide a modest thrill for any arcade racing fan who doesn't mind timer-limited racing, getting upended by invisible obstacles, or the occasional graphics glitch.